I have been in the travel industry for a hair shy of 20 years, and have seen so many changes and shifts. Notable ones have been the reduction and elimination of air commissions, the increase in “disease panic” problems, and perhaps the biggest change was the shift of the business model from retail to a home based, independent model. And with most of our audience falling into the latter category, on this Independence Day, I wish you a very Happy Independent’s Day!
Like most of you, I also operate my business from my home. It did not start that way back in 1997. While some thought I was crazy, I bought an existing Carlson Wagonlit Travel franchise (yes, in the time of declining commissions) and expanded it to tow retail locations along with several other at-home and in-plant operations across the country. I had an opportunity to sell in 2005 and I took it. But, based on the success of my at-home locations, I could see that there was something to this concept. I exempted a small part of my book of business from the sale, modified the heck out of a non-compete agreement, and my at-home agency was born in 2006—and I never looked back.
While I am tightly focused on a specific market (single parents) and have essentially ditched the airlines as they did me when I had my retail locations, my margins and my sanity have never been higher. Am I making more dollars? Not really, but it is close. Am I getting airline and supplier overrides? Nope, but my model is based on a net price plus a markup. I sell my product, not a supplier’s product. I sell to the clients I want to sell to—not to everyone that dials up my phone. But most importantly, I have moved from a 5% to 10% business to a 20% to 25% one. It does not take a math major to figure out that I can do less work for more money. It’s called working smarter.
Outside of work, my sanity has returned. Of course, there are stresses like any business—I need business, how will I pay for advertising, with this mistake how is the group going to be profitable, oh crap, the electric bill is a lot higher than anticipated… These are the stressors that go with any business. What I left behind was stressing about when a supplier was going to pay me; why the ARC report did not reconcile properly; why British Airways sent me a debit memo for $10,000; how will I make payroll this week; is the rent on my office really $12,000 a month? Absent all that, I gained a lot of free time as well as a reclaiming a huge dose of my sanity. I have been able to travel when I want (not when it fit in the business needs), work as much or as little as I want, and reduce a ton of stress by worrying only about myself and not the livelihood of fourteen other people. And with the increased margins, lower sales, and less time, my income has remained very comparable to what it was when I was putting in 60+ hours a week in the office.
Moving home was one of the best business decisions I have ever made. The timing was right, the market was right, and today I am thriving because of it. No doubt my story is similar to many of yours. You may not have owned an agency, but you may have been “working for the man” and moved home. I am sure you are reaping the benefits as well. And to that… and to us… I say Happy Independent’s Day!